Trump adviser Peter Thiel questions ‘group think’ of restricting carbon emissions

Peter Thiel, the technology investor and adviser to President Donald Trump, questioned the global push towards restricting carbon emissions as “group think” while speaking Tuesday at the energy conference CERAWeek by IHS Markit.

“I’m not sure I’m an extreme skeptic of climate change but I have my doubts about the extreme ways that people try to push it through,” he said. “Even if climate change is quite as bad as people think it is, if we group think we’re more likely to misdiagnose the problem. Maybe it’s methane emissions, and the real problem is eating steak.”

The question of how the Trump administration will handle climate change is a cen-tral issue for energy companies, as they face the prospect of a shift to a lower carbon economy.

Trump has promised to roll back policies of former President Barack Obama, including his Clean Power Plan, and is considering whether to pull the United States from the Paris climate accord.

Thiel offered little insight on where Trump might ultimately end up on that decision. But as a close associate of the president, who worked on his transition team, he is believed to have his ear on a wide range of issues.

A co-founder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook, Thiel is known for his contrarian points of view and seeking investments missed by mainstream inves-tors. He commented during his talk with Dan Yergin, who leads the annual con-ference called CERAWeek by IHS Markit, that he was surprised hydraulic fracturing had generated the profits it had considering the degree of competition within the energy space.

“There is not necessarily a link between great innovation and great economic re-ward,” Thiel said.

Like most industries nowadays, energy companies have been nervously trying to figure out what President Donald Trump will mean. Yergin said it was among the first questions he got when talking with attendees in the lead up to this year’s event.

The common thinking is Trump’s pledge to grow American jobs and reduce regu-lation should be good news for an oil and gas industry that was hit with climate change regulations during the Obama administration.

Already, Trump has okayed the long delayed Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines and signed executive orders expected to aid fossil fuel production.

“Congress and the White House are going in the right direction, and it’s a different direction from what we’ve seen the last eight years,” said Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Association. “Keystone and [Dakota Access] were ear-ly signs he’s serious about this.”

Thiel has become a controversial figure in liberal Silicon Valley for his support of Trump, including a $1.25 million donation to Trump’s campaign in October. Critics called on Facebook to remove Thiel from its board of directors, prompting a re-sponse from CEO Mark Zuckerberg defending Thiel.

“We care deeply about diversity,” Zuckerberg wrote. “That’s easy to say when it means standing up for ideas you agree with. It’s a lot harder when it means stand-ing up for the rights of people with different viewpoints to say what they care about.”

ut among the oil and gas executives who dominate CERAWeek, Thiel faced a more politically conservative audience.

Asked about what the Trump administration would mean for the oil and gas in-dustry at the conference Tuesday, Pioneer Natural Resources executive chairman Scott Sheffield said, “Hopefully better than the last eight years.”